I have yet to meet Paul Rosenberg, but I’ve followed his work for years. He’s a brilliant thinker, and from what I can gather via my communications with him, just a damn nice guy!
Paul knows a lot about a lot of things. An adventure capitalist with a broad range of interests and experiences under his belt, current passions include philosophy, theology, history, psychology, and physics. This diverse interest base is reflected in his extensive repertoire of published titles, including A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, The Words of the Founders, and Production Versus Plunder, not to mention 55 engineering and construction books.
He is also the author of the excellent blog, Free-Man’s Perspective.
Paul is speaking at our Aspen Meet Up, along with Doug Casey and others in August. Sharing a scotch and some intellectual discourse with these two gents will easily be one of the highlights of the year for me!
I love reading Paul’s work because I inevitably learn something. That’s always a good thing!
WARNING: If you’re offended by free-thinking, believe government is an honourable institution or are otherwise inclined to think that what you hear from the mainstream news outlets is “mostly the truth”, then you should not read any further. I’d also go as far as to say you are reading the wrong blog.
Mark: Paul, you’ve said that, “The meaning of modern existence has devolved to nothing more than comfort and status; discovery is a non-factor. All modern man seeks are food, sex, and comfort, and he/she devotes his/her life to nothing more than mundane things.”
I interact with a global base of friends. Thankfully most of them are not deluded by materialism and empty desires. However, it seems that the majority of the Western world (and increasingly the developing world) has been lulled to sleep by technology, mindless entertainment and a stripping of even the most harmless of tresspassings by overbearing nanny states.
Give us some historical perspective on this. Has this happened before? How does it end?
Paul: Yes, it has definitely happened before, especially as civilizations teeter on the edge of collapse. I generally use the Romans as an example, so I’ll just go with them:
The end of Rome was famously called a time of “bread and circuses,” which simply means “handouts and entertainment.” Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Rome’s fall. It comes from a man named Salvian the Presbyter, in about 440 AD:
The authors of base pleasures feasted at will in most places… all things were filled and stuffed to overflowing. Nobody thought of the State’s expenses, nobody thought of the State’s losses, because the cost was not felt. The State itself sought how it might squander what it was already scarcely able to acquire.
This was written after Rome had already been sacked once and when the last emperor was just a few decades off. To me, it sounds a lot like our times.
How it ends is a fascinating study. I actually devoted most of my newsletter’s current issue to this question, but I’ll try to summarize here:
The obedient citizens end up going down with their empire, and are crushed when it evaporates before their eyes. But there are other people who either leave or are spat out of the system. If they find new sources of meaning in their lives, they may create a better civilization in the ashes of the old. That’s actually what the early Christians did as Rome fell. They (along with stoics and cynics who merged with them) created a better way of life in Europe, building the first large economy that functioned without slavery.
Mark: Directly related to the last question is the imposition of fear upon the populace to “control” it. You quote Robert Ringer, who said, “The results you produce in life are inversely proportional to the degree to which you are intimidated.”
You yourself have said that “systems for harnessing fear currently dominate life on this planet.” I couldn’t agree more. The perfect example of this is organised religion. The fear of eternally burning in “Hell” is enough to keep billions “in line”, and adding to the coffers of their repressors on a regular basis!
What is it in our makeup that leaves us so susceptible to fear-based control?
Paul: Human body chemistry inclines us to over-respond to fear. If we walk through a forest at night and see a large shadow moving toward us, we instantly fear that it’s a bear, or some other danger. In reality, it’s more likely a tree branch in the wind, but we jump very easily to fear. That’s just something we have to deal with, if in no other way than remembering that our fear impulse is too strong, and that we must compensate for it.
In addition, there are people who want to manipulate and make use of others. And they work hard at magnifying and manipulating this weakness.
So, part of it is wired into us and part of it is stoked by manipulators.
Mark: You wrote a great piece called The Suppression of Happiness, in which you said, “To restrict peaceful humans is to directly restrain their happiness. It also directly restrains their talent, and that impoverishes the future, including billions of humans yet unborn. It is among the worst crimes imaginable, yet it is presented to us as an essential.”
To me this is all about control, once again. Give us some more colour on why those in power continue to increase their control and restrictions on our behaviour. How do we free ourselves from the “controllers”?
Paul: There are, unfortunately, people among us who seek power over others. Probably all of us have felt the dominance instinct at some point in our lives, but the vast majority of us learn that it’s an ugly, destructive way of life and we get over it. But some people are wired differently and think of domination as their proper role. These people will always go after power. So long as there are systems that allow them to control and reap from everyone else, they’ll work full-time to get their hands on its levers.
But beyond the systems that empower these people lies a second problem: Normal people obey them! The immoral power-grabbers are consistently rewarded by people who generally care about morality. That’s the insanity of our time. We all know that the rulers are liars and thieves – people say so openly – and yet almost everyone obeys them just the same. It’s crazy, but it’s everywhere.
As for freeing ourselves, the first step is simply coming to grips with these facts. But the second step is the crucial one, and the place where many people fail. And that step is to act on what you know. It really doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you break your inertia and do something. A lot of people are glad to sit around and complain, but they never get out of their seats and act upon the world directly. And until they do, they’ll never free themselves or anyone else. There is no substitute for action; it’s what changes us and what eventually changes the world.
Mark: Paul, I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine who was born in a socialist country. We were discussing taxation and wealth disparity. My friend was asking why those sitting with billions should not be made to help those less fortunate. I think we can all agree that homeless children and poverty are terrible things, but my argument was based on the morality of “taking” from one individual forcibly, and “giving” to another. My libertarian beliefs prevent me from imposing my will on others, no matter the justification.
My friend brought up Brazil’s street children. It’s a terrible situation, but I reminded him that whilst these children are living in slums and on the street, their government is squandering billions of tax dollars on the World Cup! We have the means to cope with poverty, hunger and myriad other issues. Lack exists only due to competing agendas.
Can you help me frame this argument without coming across as a “greedy, heartless capitalist?”
Paul: The first problem with your friend’s question is that is sets a “starting position” that is both deceptive and manipulative.
This argument starts with an assumption that the state is beyond question and that any failures must be attributed to someone else. They don’t say that, but it’s included in their question. If there are starving kids, it could never be that the state was hurting them. Such a thought wouldn’t register in their minds.
This is dogma, the same as medieval people holding their Holy Church above all question. The Church was an idol to them and states are idols to modern people. It is the very same thing.
This idolized state system steals half of what every working person makes. Working people are trying to do the right thing and are stripped bare for their efforts. How about some compassion for them? Why don’t they matter? And what about some compassion for their kids, who suffer along with them?
But these thoughts don’t register, because the state is an idol, and while one may critique its parts, the state as a whole is only questioned by crazy, dangerous people. In other words, by heretics.
Again, this is exactly the same closed-minded dogma that kept medieval minds in chains. It may even be worse now.
As for the billionaire, sure, it would be a good thing for him to help the poor. But almost all rich people do help others. What the question says, however, is that the state should take this person’s money by force. That’s simply theft, and theft is immoral, even when an idol does it.
Idolatry has not gone away, it merely wears new clothes.
But the worst thing about the state system is that it stifles actual compassion. Taxation destroys the ability of working people to act upon their compassion, which would create a virtuous cycle in them. The state robs us of that, which is a very big deal.
Compulsion is the opposite of compassion, and is by nature its enemy.
Mark: Paul, one of your stronger quotes was, “Your rulers are immoral, rapacious, and unrestrained. They are building a hell for you and your children right now.”
To further that you said, “Big Brother did not come with elections and clear choices; it came riding on the usual human weaknesses: fear, greed, and servility.”
We spoke about fear earlier. There’s a lot to be afraid of, it seems, but I have to imagine that peaceful resistance is still the best way to combat evil. How do we actually implement this? Do we just all stop going to work, paying taxes, cooperating with our repressors?
Paul: The passage “They are building a hell for you and your children right now” was about mass surveillance and the abominable things that are following it. It’s far worse than people understand. But even in this case, we can protect ourselves if we act, rather than waiting for someone to give us a free fix. But unless you are doing something, you’re being eaten, day be day. It’s as simple as that.
As for resistance, infinite possibilities stand before us, so long as we stop looking for some ‘leader’ to give us a plan. There will be no “blueprint” to follow. Either we remain as individuals or we don’t. And if we don’t, it’s only a matter of time until we become the enemy.
If we are to resist peacefully, as you correctly say, we must act on our own. Each of us must summon his or her courage and act without taking comfort in being led. But once enough of us do, systems of violence and compulsion will fail. The Albert Einstein Institute has been publishing lists of ideas for years, and that’s merely a starting point.
Mark: Paul, what’s the tipping point where populations finally say “enough is enough”? How do revolutions start and how is change affected when the time finally comes?
Paul: Actually, revolution is not a good model for us, it’s a political model for taking over power. I know that people use it in other ways, such as “The Ron Paul Revolution,” but I try to stay away from it. I even wrote an article called Against Revolution once.
Our model is that of the early Christians. I’m not saying this to promote religion, by the way, it’s just that they’re the best example I know. As Bruce Lee would say, “Take what is useful, wherever you find it.”
And, to be clear, the people I’m talking about lived in the 2nd and 3rd centuries; before the Catholic Church existed. Here’s what historian Will Durant wrote about them:
…a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known.
This is what we need to do if we want to win: Multiply quietly, build order while our enemies generate chaos, persist, endure, and in the end triumph.
The usual revolution model has the appeal of a fast victory. Permanent change, however, doesn’t come via shortcuts. If we want true liberty to win, we’ll have to do it the slow way. We’ll need to change minds one by one, build better ways of living, love one another, and endure.
Paul has a sharp mind and a keen understanding of history. We need to understand the past so that we don’t simply keep repeating it. That’s been the pattern throughout much of human history, unfortunately. Don’t forget to check out his work.
“So the story of man runs in a dreary circle, because he is not yet master of the earth that holds him.” – Will Durant